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Second division as launchpad

Introducing new signing Mehdi Benatia

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Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus, AC Milan, Paris Saint Germain... Nearly all the top clubs in Europe have been mentioned in connection with Mehdi Benatia. Morocco’s sportsman and footballer of the year in 2013, who for FC Bayern on Wednesday evening, has made a name for himself on the international stage over the past few years. He is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, central defender in Serie A.

The Bundesliga and Serie A were a long way off just a few years ago. In the summer of 2008 Benatia joined Clermont Foot in the French second division. It was a conscious step backwards for the then 21-year-old. A new start followed a season dominated by injuries, ending with a torn cruciate, at FC Lorient and an unsuccessful spell at Olympique Marseille.

Benatia found his feet in the second division. The right-footer made a name for himself in a flash and joined Udinese in Serie A two years later. He quickly settled in the top flight too. Physically strong, good on the ground and in the air, technically skilled with good vision and the ability to pass, the 1.91 metre tall defender, who played in attacking midfield in his youth, caused a stir in Udine.

No red cards

He qualified for the Europa League three times with the Italian club as Udinese twice narrowly missed out in the Champions League play-offs. Benatia joined AS Roma in the summer of 2013 and he was an established first choice last term as the Rome club finished as runners-up. The Roma fans voted him player of the season.

With 113 games and 11 goals in Serie A under his belt plus 13 appearances and one goal in the Europa League, the 27-year-old, who has never been sent off in his career as a pro, is now on his way to FC Bayern. The father of two, who was born and grew up in Paris, made his debut for Morocco in 2008 and he now has 31 caps for his father’s country. He is now the captain of the team. Ever since he took a step back in order to take two steps forwards, the only way for Benatia has been up.